SAMJ: South African Medical Journal
Print version ISSN 0256-9574
WOOD, Darryl; WEBB, Caroline and DEMEYER, Jenine. Severe snakebites in northern KwaZulu-Natal: treatment modalities and outcomes. SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. [online]. 2009, vol.99, n.11, pp. 814-818. ISSN 0256-9574.
OBJECTIVE: We aimed to study the outcomes of severe snakebites in patients admitted to Ngwelezana Hospital in north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal, the seasonal variations, and the effectiveness and complications of antivenom. DESIGN: A prospective observational outcomes study was conducted over one year (1 June 2007 to 31 May 2008). The study group was from the north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa, with a population of approximately 3 million people, and included all patients bitten by snakes and admitted to the Ngwelezana Hospital Emergency Medicine Unit (EMU). Departmental practice guidelines were documented and followed. OUTCOME MEASURES: End-points for patient outcomes included transfer from the EMU to the ward, discharge home from the EMU, and follow-up of patients who required surgery or ICU care. RESULTS: A total of 243 snakebite patients were recorded. The highest incidence was in the summer months; 46 (18.93%) patients experienced one or more severe complications; 29 (11.93%) patients received some form of definitive management in hospital; and 22 (9.05%) of the latter patients received antivenom. Antivenom was administered to more children than adults. Adverse reactions to antivenom were common: an allergic response occurred in 4 (15.4%) patients, and anaphylaxis in 6 (23.1%); the highest incidence occurred in the <10-year-old age group. No deaths were recorded. CONCLUSIONS: Snakebites are common in the summer months in north eastern KwaZulu-Natal. Children are particularly vulnerable to snakebites and the effects of antivenom. Adverse reactions to antivenom are common. Severe snakebites that require antivenom should be managed in a hospital setting with advanced airway support. The syndromic approach to treatment is simple and effective.